In 1992, the Republican Party launched a vicious assault against Bill Clinton for traveling overseas and speaking out against his country's foreign policy during the Vietnam War. It was the beginning of a strategy to demean the national-security credentials of the Democratic Party. Now, twelve years later, Vice President Dick Cheney has updated the tactic, hammering those who question George W. Bush's prosecution of the war on terror and impugning John Kerry's commitment to national security. His rhetoric has been so vitriolic, he actually suggested last week that a Kerry presidency would mean "we will get hit again" by terrorists.
Beyond blatantly mischaracterizing Democrats' positions on defense, these shameless attacks serve to distract from the vice president's own proclivity for undermining American foreign policy. The record shows that over the last decade, Cheney was willing first to do business with countries on the U.S. government's terror list, then to travel abroad and condemn U.S. counter-terrorism policy when it got in his way. In the process, Cheney proved repeatedly he could be trusted to put Halliburton's bottom line ahead of his country's national security.
As Secretary of Defense under George H.W. Bush, Cheney helped lead a multinational coalition against Iraq and was one of the architects of a post-war economic embargo designed to choke off funds to the country. He insisted the world should "maintain sanctions, at least of some kind," so Saddam Hussein could not "rebuild the military force he's used against his neighbors."
But less than six years later, as a private businessman, Cheney apparently had more important interests than preventing Hussein from rebuilding his army. While he claimed during the 2000 campaign that, as CEO of Halliburton, he had "imposed a 'firm policy' against trading with Iraq," confidential UN records show that, from the first half of 1997 to the summer of 2000, Halliburton held stakes in two firms that sold more than $73 million in oil production equipment and spare parts to Iraq while Cheney was in charge. Halliburton acquired its interest in both firms while Cheney was at the helm, and continued doing business through them until just months before Cheney was named George W. Bush's running mate.
Perhaps even more troubling, at the same time Cheney was doing business with Iraq, he launched a public broadside against sanctions laws designed to cut off funds to regimes like Iran, which the State Department listed as a state sponsor of terrorism. In 1998, Cheney traveled to Kuala Lumpur to attack his own country's terrorism policies for being too strict. Under the headline, "Former US Defence Secretary Says Iran-Libya Sanctions Act 'Wrong,'" the Malaysian News Agency reported that Cheney "hit out at his government" and said sanctions on terrorist countries were "ineffective, did not provide the desired results and [were] a bad policy."
Two years later, Cheney traveled to another country to demand America weaken restrictions on doing business with Iran's petroleum industry, despite Clinton administration warnings that Iranian oil revenues could be used to fund terrorism. "We're kept out of [Iran] primarily by our own government, which has made a decision that U.S. firms should not be allowed to invest significantly in Iran," he told an oil conference in Canada. "I think that's a mistake."
Now new reports suggest Cheney's desire to do business with Iran may have amounted to more than words. Details of Halliburton's activities in Iran have been investigated by the Treasury Department and were recently forwarded to the U.S. attorney in Houston. Such an action is taken only after Treasury finds evidence of 'serious and willful violations' of sanctions laws. Halliburton already admits one of its subsidiaries "performs between $30 [million] and $40 million annually in oilfield service work in Iran."
Why is this record important in the current presidential debate? Because as Cheney barnstorms around the country touting the Bush administration's record, his years at Halliburton indicate he is willing to put other priorities before America's national security. Even as Iran built ties to terrorists and worked to develop a nuclear weapon, Cheney insisted corporations must do "business in countries that may have policies that the U.S. does not like." His reasoning? "The good Lord didn't see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratic regimes friendly to the United States."
Such comments contrast sharply with the Republicans' message at their national convention. Far from embodying lofty ideals of "freedom" and "democracy," Cheney's record depicts a man governed by greed. As the election nears, that poses an important question to all Americans: Are we really comfortable with this person -- and this ideology -- shaping U.S. policy in an age of global terror?
David Sirota is the Director of Strategic Communications at the American Progress Action Fund. Jonathan Baskin is the Fund's research assistant.
Copyright © 2004 by The American Prospect, Inc